Draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence - First Report


Memorandum by Residents from various non-political groups in the London Borough of Enfield

  Last year, Enfield Council carried out what they have described as a "major public consultation exercise" with the residents of Enfield. Only 3,000 consultation documents were printed—some were distributed to organisations and if a resident collected one from the Civic Centre they were asked for their name. The impenetrable 12 page document was completed by 85 groups or individuals, not all of whom were in favour of the proposals. At least 95 per cent of the borough did not even realise that the process was taking place.

  We now realise that Enfield Council, under the Leadership of Councillor Jeff Rodin, acted with indecent haste in this process in order to gain Beacon Status. Councillor, Rodin admitted in Full Council that the manner of consultation was flawed and he agreed that the public should be re-consulted. Someone in higher authority (and this has been asked of the Local Government Minister, Hillary Armstrong) should ensure that all the borough (not merely the original small number) will know of this re-consultation, that it will not involve a similar lengthy and complicated document, and also that it will take place before Enfield Council has been able to set its preferred Cabinet model in stone.

  It is quite obvious that Enfield has been selected as a guinea-pig borough to test run all manner of new ideas. While this may in some respects be considered laudable, it has to be deemed unacceptable when such an action, in effect, dis-enfranchises the residents. At not time were we made aware of the other options of choice for Local Government Reform, nor even the fact the existing system, with some adjustments, could be retained. The whole process was put in train immediately after the local elections and before the White Paper was even available.

  Presentations are now being made to various groups in the borough and, if pressed, those presenting are admitting to the flawed process of the consultation, the fact that it will need more layers of staff to implement and will cost more, even though Enfield has already declared a £12 million deficit for 1999-2000. We are being told that now that the new Cabinet model has been put in place, and that we are not to be "backward looking" but to protest loudly if it all goes wrong! To whom and how, one might ask, and by what criteria?

  We are unable to find any one of our Councillors or MPs who studied the document and made an effort to complete one. The residents of Enfield were cheated of a democratic consultation by 66 Councillors, three MPs and a Chief Executive Officer who chose to hide the truth from us.

  It has been made clear by many Councillors, they did not have to "consult" and could have "imposed" the Cabinet model as it was the only option available prior to legislation. In this case a simple press release would have been a more honest approach, negating a costly process that wasted long hours of Councillors' and committees' time, used a mountain of paper and involved the public at evasive meetings.

  Blame is being laid at the government's feet for its fudge of the White Paper (of July '98), with claims that it is unclear and open to interpretation. In the event of a referendum, who would contact the 5 per cent required, pay for its organisation, and adjudicate? As most Councils, including Enfield, are not in favour of other models, would they then promote a weak case and encourage a "No" vote thereby ensuring a fait accompli? Enfield Council has a well documented record of abysmal public consultations resulting in only the answer "they" require.

  We would ask in this submission that the following points be considered essential when consulting the electorate on such a vastly important issue as a change in the way Local Government is run.

  1.  All new Councillors should have an induction period, perhaps shadowed by a former Councillor, where they are made conversant with relevant legislation such as the National Code of Local Government Conduct, Local Government Acts and Standards in Public Life (now under Lord Nolan's successor Lord Neill) and they should not be given positions of power for which they have no prior training or qualifications.

  2.  Remove the retrograde step of excluding opposition councillors, public and the press from Cabinet meetings and ensure that any Independent Councillors would not be excluded from Cabinet or other meetings due to single party control. All pre-group meetings to decide votes on any aspect of running the borough should be made illegal and the whips be removed as is now legally required.

  3.  Councillors elected should know that they run the borough on behalf of and for the benefit of the residents, not their political parties and they should not score political points to the detriment of the job they should be doing. Local government should be returned to the system whereby it was a privilege to be elected to serve the community and, while the remuneration should cover all expenses incurred, councillors' financial gain should not amount to vast sums of taxpayers money.

  4.  Remove the present Cabinet model which is proving to be the opposite to our Council's stated aims of "More openness, transparency and accountability and greater opportunity for Councillor representational role", to name but a few.

28 June 1999

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